070319.Bridgwater, Just Water Under the Bridge? (Not to Bath Brick Enthusiasts)March 19, 2007 at 2:29 AM | Posted in bricks, river, somerset, Towers, towns | 12 Comments
This feels very pastoral to me, it seems to be the most American shot I’ve taken in England — I hope that wasn’t influenced by the warehouse factories on the bank. (Off topic but by the way, last night it snowed.)
The question came up in yesterday’s post, why the lack of an ‘e.’ The town centre contains West Quay, which faces the River Parret and it’s east bank of East Quay, where the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum is located. This must go back far since it is though the original name of this city was “Brigg,” which meant Quay and not prison. The town in the Norman period was listed as Brugie (and later Brugia) in the Domesday Book and other records. During this period it was given over to a prince named Walter Douai, and this town-fiefdom thus began to be referred to as “Burgh-Water,” “Brugg-Walter” and “Brigg-Walter.” Some speculate the town was known as “Bridge of Walter,” but today it is known as Bridgwater; so I guess it is just coincidence that the town contains a bridge, some water, and maybe a few Walters.  (Below: a sturdy Bridgwater Brick)
As stated yesterday, the town contains exceptional clay for bricks but terrible water full of all sorts of nasty things, which negatively impact tiles produced here. Some of the nastier things are organic debris that turns out to be exceptional and unique for the making of “Bath Bricks,” which were kinda like 18th and 19th-Century Steel wool for scrubbing clothes and metal stains. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management mentioned Bath Bricks. It was shipped everywhere: throughout Europe, the British Empire, and the US. These were probably shipped as ballast, to some degree. And it all came from Bridgwater.
“There is a reference in Victoria County History of Somerset, vol. 2, p. 353. An article by C. J. Goodland on Bath bricks appeared in ‘the Morganian’ (magazine of Dr. Morgan’s grammar school, Bridgwater) in December 1929, continued in April 1930.
“The bricks, also known as Patent Scouring or Flanders bricks, were made until two or three years ago by John Board & Co., Bridgwater. Mud and a lime deposited by the tidal river on its banks was dug out and weathered for siz months.. Then moulded into brick shape and when dry burnt in a kiln (at a greater head than building bricks).
“For many years Bath brick manufacture was Bridgwater’s staple industry. Started about 1765. The rbciks were used pre-stainless steel for metal scouring. Large export trade to underdeveloped countries, presumably where stainless steel had not yet penetrated to the mass of the population.” 
Why Bath Brick? The Victorian Society and Georgian Group used to claim it was because the brick was invented by a Mr Bath, no such person has been found in the records, however. Locationwise, the brick comes from Bridgwater, not Bath (where there is no brick within the entire city!). So apparently Bridgwater brick (above) is traditionally fired at 930 degrees Celsius (typically for about a week). Bath Brick, however, is only fired at 500 to 600 degrees Celsius, which is responsible for its softer colour–one that was thought in terms of marketing to resemble the then fashionable Bath stone, hence the name. 
“… Bridgwater clay bricks and tiles are burned at 930° Centigrade, but Bath bricks at only 500° — 600° Centigrade – above that the Bath brick becomes too hard for use as a cleaning medium. Extracted From E. Porter, ‘The Bridgwater Clay Industry’ (unpublished).”
Apart from Mr Bath, there were two other crazy theories, both of which have been debunked but no one (until today) has every put forward the theory that Bath bricks were so named because in an age absent of rubber duckies, children and…and people of all ages brought bricks into the bath with them. The fact that they turned out to be good for cleaning was purely incidental. (Below:) Women making the Bricks, (and below that:) Actual Bath Brick!
“The Bath Brick
“The Clay Industry produced the “Bath Brick” or “Scourging Brick.” It had very high cleaning properties and was used to clean silver ware.
“The slime deposits on the banks of the river provided a material for manufacture of the bricks and were to become well known throughout the world. Manufacture began in the 1820’s. a patent for the brick being granted in 1823. John Browne & Company also discovered a use for the slime and was granted a patent for the manufacture of the “Bath Stone” in 1827. The slime deposits were believed to have originated from the sea, but later found that algae was carried by fresh water from land and deposited at the mouth of the river, later to be brought in with high tide and left on the banks, mostly within two miles of the old town bridge. Slime drawn in the winter months was stock-piled for manufacture in the summer. It was passed through a crude vertical mixer powdered by a horse and then extruded where women gathered the material and rolled it into balls (known as obstricking), it was then thrown into moulds by the men. They were then turned in boards and left to dry in the sun. Bath bricks were sold to France, Germany, America at 40/= per thousand. The low price for these goods was due to cheap labour and there being no tax or levy on them.
“The decline was accelerated by the introduction of substitute cleaning materials which were presented in a more attractive way to the public. However it was an industry which could have been improved upon and the properties of the slime could have been explored more. The industry was maintained for many years with an annual output of approximately 24 million.” 
Due to this cheap price, it was occasionally used in garden wall construction (though I doubt if any of those walls built with Bath Brick still stand.)
Q: “…The brick-dust powder was also sold here. Have you seen it in old catalogs of the 1870s and as late as 1916.[sic] Also have two different packages in my collection. One of them in a shaker or sifting can.
“Do you know if they were pulverized in England before shipping? I thought maybe that some of ‘the old timers might remember.’
“PS I have written a book about the old country general store, Its [sic] merchandise and fixtures. It is about ready for publishig [sic]. Among the few items about which I would like more information is the powdered brick.” 
A: “I have at last been able to run to earth some reliable information about the pulverising of Bath Bricks. I learn from a pamphlet, ‘The mysterious origin of the Bath Brick deposits of Bridwater,’ by W.G. Smith, published at Bristol in 1917, that it was the practice at that time for broken bricks (i.e., those inadvertently broken during manufacture) to be ground into powder and filled into sacks. It appears that a ‘largely increased trade in Bath brick powder’ had spring up in the years immediately preceding 1917. It appears likely from this that the manufacturers sold it in bulk to merchants, who would no doubt arrange their own individual style of packaging in such things as shakers or sifting cans.”
1. Stephen Robinson. Somerset Place Names. Wimbourne: The Dovecote Press Ltd, 2002.
2. A Dunn, Letter to Frank Hawtin, Tutor Organiser, Somerset County Council, Education Museum Services, County Museum, Taunton. (22 February 1965)
3. Catherine Wells. The Bridgwater Brick and Tile Industry. Thesis, (Croydon College of Art and Design, 1982-1984): 6.
4. R. Evans, Bridgwater with and without the ‘E.’ Somerset, 1994.
5. A Dunn. Letter from Bridgwater Library to Frank Hawtin, Tutor Organiser, Somerset County Council, Education Museum Services, County Museum, Taunton. (22 March 1965)
6. Wells, The Bridgwater Brick and Tile Industry (and the Specs page)
7. A. Dunn. Letter from Laurence A. Johnson of Syracuse, New York to Mr. Angus Dunn, Librarian and Curator of the Public Library, Bridgwater, Somerset, England. (17 Nov 1957)
8. A. Dunn. Letter from the Librarian & Curator (A. Dunn) of Bridgwater, Somerset Library to the Letter to Mr. Laurence A. Johnson of 1202 Broad Street, Syracuse, New York (21 January 1958)
Letter from the Librarian & Curator of Bridgwater, Somerset Library to the Director and Secretary of Barnham Brothers, Ltd. (3 September 1963) refers to SEE ALSO other sources:
A) C. Goodland, “Bath Bricks,” in The Morganian [School Magazine], Decemebr 1929
B) Edmund Porter, “The Brick and Tile Industry [of Bridgwater] Past and Present and Events Leading to Its Mechanization” (Pamphlet) Bridgwater: John Browne & Co., Bridgwater, Ltd.
C) Compostion for the Manufacture of Artificial Stone, &c” (20 June 1827)
D) “By 12 September 1721 the plan of Kew, or Castle, Street, to be built on the former castle garden, had been approved… In January 1722 Chandos was offering to supply stone for the foundations and the buring lime (presumably debris of the castle). If he provided the clay, who, he asked, would make the bricks?* [A footnote apprended states ‘Local brickmakers were John Christopher and Tilaley: 500,000 bricks, at 1s, per thousand, and 9s, 6d. per [undescipherable] (₤78, 7s, 6d.) were ordered. Three of the Castle Street houses would require 100,000 bricks each.’]” –C. H. Collins Baker and Muriel Baker, The Life and Circumstance of James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949.
Figured this was a specialty topic that would be tough to research for anyone not in the area so I’m posting whatever I found on the subject during my one hour in the library there. Contact me if you have any questions (or the library, which clearly answers letters much more effectively). Photo of Women making the bricks and bricks with displays courtesy of the Somerset Brick and Tile Museum.